Is a bad American image bad for American products?

Some evidence indicates yes:

“It’s not like there’s a massive boycott,” said Miller. “Instead, it seems to be an erosion of support. It’s not falling off the face of the earth, but it is clearly a warning sign for brands.”

NOP found the popularity and consumption of US products had declined for the first time since the research programme was launched in 1998.

Until 2002, NOP found that brands such as McDonald’s and Coca-Cola were notching up healthy annual growth in terms of use and familiarity in international markets.

However, last year NOP discovered that the growth in popularity of all major consumer brands – including those from Europe and Asia – had stalled. Over the past 12 months the positive trend has gone into reverse, with US products hardest hit.

NOP found that the number of non-American consumers who “trust” Coca-Cola had fallen from 55% to 52%, while McDonald’s rating had slipped from 36% to 33%, Nike’s from 56% to 53% and Microsoft had fallen from 45% to 39%.

When people were asked about brands associated with “honesty”, Coca-Cola was found to have declined from 18% to 15%, McDonald’s from 19% to 14%, Nike from 14% to 11% and Microsoft from 18% to 12%.

The total number of consumers worldwide who “use” US brands was found to have fallen from 30% to 27%, while non-American brands remained stable at 24%.

The NOP annual study covers 30,000 people in markets around the world, and the latest survey was conducted between January and March – a period marked by the growing crisis in Iraq.

It also found the decline in interest and respect for US products was reflected in consumers’ view of American cultural values.

The percentage of consumers that believed honesty was an important attribute of American culture was found to be below 50% in a number of major markets such as France, Italy, Germany, Spain and Turkey.

In Germany, only 31% of consumers believed honesty was an American cultural attribute and in Saudi Arabia just 23% thought so.

While consumers in Muslim countries such as Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia were found to be least likely to share American cultural values, NOP also found people in a number of major European markets felt their own values were significantly different to American ones.

Compared with consumers in countries such as Venezuela, Taiwan, the Philippines, Brazil and Australia – over 75% of whom say they share American values – just 65% of UK consumers say they share US values.

If a bottle of coke is branded by the Coke name, we should not be surprised if “Coke” is branded by the international reputation of the United States. Above a certain level of income, at least half of our discretionary consumption is driven by the desire to affiliate and the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and what we are doing.